JNS.org – After facing growing pressure from faculty members, students, and an outside Muslim advocacy group, Brandeis University said Tuesday that it is rescinding its decision to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and critic of Islam, over her “past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
But in light of the school’s past decisions to honor American playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, who have both made anti-Israel or anti-Semitic remarks, some are now accusing Brandeis of applying a double standard over the move to rescind Hirsi Ali’s honor for her remarks on Islam.
In a 2004 interview with Haaretz, Kushner called the creation of Israel a “mistake.” Yet in 2006, former Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz defended Kushner’s honorary degree, saying, “Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the university does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.” At the time, a prominent campaign led by the Zionist Organization of America and other Jewish groups called on Brandeis to pull Kushner’s honor, to no avail.
“That Brandeis withstood Zionist unhappiness in 2006, and went ahead to award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, points to who today really has power in the United States—and even in the Jewish community,” Middle East Forum President Dr. Daniel Pipes, whose daughter attended Brandeis, told JNS.org on Wednesday.
Born in Somalia to a strict Muslim family and raised in Kenya, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female genital mutilation, abuse, and an arranged marriage. She fled to the Netherlands in the early 1990s.
After renouncing her Muslim faith, Hirsi Ali became an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, especially in the Muslim world, and a staunch critic of Islam, which she views as being at war with the West. She also served as a member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006, founded the AHA Foundation to protect women’s rights, and is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Daniel Mael, a junior at Brandeis University and co-founder of Brandeis Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, said he is “appalled by the hypocrisy of the university administration and their inability to distinguish between [Hirsi Ali’s] view on Islam and her efforts in this world.”
“This highlights [Brandeis’s] shallow commitment to [its slogan] ‘Truth, even unto its innermost parts,’ which has been replaced with the empty buzzword ‘social justice,’” Mael told JNS.org.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Hirsi Ali said, “The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced.”